President Donald Trump may have criticised Barack Obama for playing too much golf, but he’s already beating Obama’s pace.
As of his first 100 days in office end on Saturday, Trump has gone on 19 golf outings, compared to Obama’s one during the equivalent time as president.
Regardless of who’s in office, it’s a quirk of modern American culture that if you haven’t liked the president in charge, you’ve had ample opportunity to paint him as preferring to be out on the golf course instead of making difficult decisions.
The fact is, American presidents have been obsessed with golf for more than 100 years. The tradition is rooted in the American notion of associating golf with the upper class, but it’s largely a tradition that’s built on itself with time.
CNN spoke with United States Golf Association historian Mike Trostel back in 2004 to learn more.
Trostel explained then that the first American president to golf while in office was William Taft, commander-in-chief from 1909 to 1913, who picked up the sport because he wanted exercise that would suit his rather hefty frame.
All but three presidents — Herbert Hoover, who found golf inappropriate during the Great Depression; and Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, who didn’t like golf — didn’t spend time on a golf course as president. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lost control of his legs to polio, could not play his beloved game of golf during his time in office but oversaw the building of a course in his name and included 600 golf course renovations or constructions as part of his New Deal recovery initiative to employ Americans in the Depression.
By far the most avid golfer among the presidents was Woodrow Wilson, who played more than 1,000 games of golf during his eight-year presidency, even driving golf balls during the winter.
The cultural link between golfing and the American presidency, however, wasn’t truly made until Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency from 1953-1961, Trostel said. Eisenhower not only came in a close second to Wilson with 800 games played, but was good pals with golf legend Arnold Palmer and the two regularly played together. The media loved covering the president playing with a celebrity athlete.
As for what a game entailed, Trostel told NPR in a separate interview from this year that presidents had different playing style. George W. Bush, for example, played for only a couple hours, while Bill Clinton liked to stretch his game to half a day.
John F. Kennedy played on the Harvard golf team and was long regarded as the most skilled presidential golfer, but Golf Digest editor in chief Jaime Diaz, who has played with Trump, told NPR he thinks Trump is better. He also noted that Trump is surprisingly calm and collected when he plays.
Trump, 70, owns 17 golf courses and has played the game his entire adult life.
As for the politics of the game, Trump receives the majority of his criticism for being a hypocrite, always ready to tweet something nasty about Obama on the green while spending more time on it himself as president.
He told Fox News in a recent interview he “couldn’t care less” about golf, and that when he’s visited the golf club as president he’s “not having fun,” but working. He’s previously defended games with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sen. Rand Paul as being conducive to deal-making, but as the Washington Post points out, he’s also played several games with professional golfers.
Different presidents have used golf for different things. Lyndon B. Johnson liked to bring politics onto the course, but Clinton, in an impassioned defence of playing golf as president, told Golf Digest in 2012 that golf was a perfect way for presidents to escape the White House and renew mind and body.
“Presidents need to rest their minds, not just their bodies,” Clinton said. “They need the exercise, the fresh air. And they need to do something that, literally, takes them away from what they’re doing.”
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